An Employer's Guide to Protecting Employees from Coronavirus and Associated Hysteria
It’s no secret that the entire world is gripped by panic over the spread of the novel coronavirus or COVID-19. It is consuming the news, causing widespread hysteria among travellers and disrupting millions of lives every day.
In fact, people are so worried that they’re even avoiding things that sound like the virus. Corona beer has reported a sharp decline in sales despite having no relation with coronavirus. Stores are running out of face masks and hand sanitizers. People are stockpiling groceries and doing everything they deem necessary to keep themselves safe.
As an employer, you’re probably wondering how to protect your employees and business travellers from this outbreak and the associated mass hysteria.
Here are 10 tips to help lower the spread of infections and prevent panic, confusion and misinformation:
1. Perform a health risk assessment in the workplace
All employers are legally required to implement reasonable measures to ensure the health and safety of employees in the workplace.
Conduct a risk assessment to evaluate factors that may make your employees more susceptible to infections and take all necessary steps to protect them.
For e.g.: Do your employees go on frequent business trips? Do they travel to high-risk areas? Should you limit the number of trips? Are there any trade shows or large events in the pipeline? If so, is it better to cancel them?
2. Circulate information on good hygiene practices
This may seem ridiculous to you but sometimes, even full grown adults don’t know how to wash their hands the right way. Lathering soap for a couple of seconds and rinsing off in a rush serves no purpose other than making your hands dry.
Encourage your employees to follow good hygiene practices in a bid to do the responsible thing and help prevent infections at work.Here is the right way to wash your hands.
How To Wash Your Hands Properly.
3. Use illustrative videos on hand hygiene to educate employees
Send out company-wide emails with illustrative hand-washing and hygiene videos demonstrating how to and how not to wash hands.
In addition, have team managers speak to employees directly about the importance of hand hygiene in such times.
Need some inspiration?
Share this creative video from the Vietnamese health department with your employees to help spark action in the workplace.
Remind employees that no two individuals have the same immune system.
It might prove useful to remind employees that no two individuals have the same immune system. Even if their symptoms are mild, they can still transmit infections to people who have a weaker immune system
4. Ensure that your disinfectant supplies are not running low
According to recent figures, sale of hand sanitizers saw a 255% increase in the month of February amid growing anxiety over coronavirus. Although there is absolutely no need to panic, public health officials are beginning to promote some level of preparedness.
Ensure adequate stock of hand sanitisers and disinfectant hand soaps in every office. Hand sanitisers must be alcohol-based with at least 60% alcohol. In addition, purchase antibacterial and antiseptic hand soaps as they are far more effective than regular soaps in combating germs.
5. Clean objects that are touched frequently in the workplace
As a rule of thumb, clean and disinfect surfaces that are touched frequently in the workplace such as door knobs, handles, light switches, refrigerator handles, microwave keypad and handle, intercom and copy machines. This should be done on a regular basis.
Examples of the germiest surfaces in your office:
1. Door Handles
2. Elevator Buttons
5. Light Switches
7. Fax and Copy Machines
8. Coffee Maker
9. Refrigerator Handles
10. Microwave Keypads and Handles
6. Send emails about coughing and sneezing etiquette
Encourage your employees to practice good coughing and sneezing etiquette.
Unfortunately, many of us fail to cover our mouths the right way when a cough or sneeze sneaks up on us.
When you have to cough or sneeze and you don’t have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve or elbow.
Don’t cover your mouth with your hands as you will be unwittingly transferring germs to everything you touch such as doorknobs, phones, computers and etc.
Coughing and sneezing etiquette.
7. Allow employees to work from home
We don’t live in the stone age anymore. With laptops and easy access to the internet, employees should be able to work from home without any constraints. This is an added precaution for your employees especially those who use public transportation to get to work.
In addition to lowering the chances of a coronavirus spread, working from home also helps our planet. Satellite images of China from NASA showed a dramatic decline in pollution levels since more people are staying at home and fewer people are using cars and other means of transportation.
8. Ask employees to stay at home even if they have mild symptoms of an infection
Even if an employee shows mild symptoms like a runny nose and a scratchy throat, ask them to stay at home to avoid contact with people in office and the general public. This is the responsible thing to do.
It is important to remember that no two individuals have the same level of immunity. Some people fall sick and recover quickly and others have difficulty developing defenses against infections. Remind employees that it is best not to put others at risk even if their symptoms are mild.
9. Have a sickness policy in place for employees who are on quarantine
Employees who may have come in contact with an infected person or gone to high-risk areas may be quarantined at home or advised to self-isolate. In such cases, it is good practice to treat the absence as sick leave and not an unpaid holiday.
This approach ensures that you don’t unintentionally encourage sick employees to come to work and put other employees at risk.
10. Introduce a strict non-discrimination policy
The coronavirus outbreak has sparked a series of racist and xenophobic incidents targeting people of Asian origin regardless of where they live.
To eliminate instances of undesirable behaviour, implement a zero-tolerance policy to racial discrimination in the workplace. Proactively remind employees that harrassment and discrimination are unacceptable and non-compliance can lead to immediate dismissal.
11. Avoid booking busy hotels for business travellers
Hotels are full of transient travellers. With a high turnover of rooms, shared facilities, and busy communal areas, hotels pose a risk to travellers wanting to avoid potential exposure to Coronavirus.
When you stay in hotels, you expect your room to have been cleaned thoroughly and meticulously after the last guest. Unfortunately, this is almost never the case.
Housekeeping departments of hotels often have to clean many rooms in a day and there is a high risk of cross-contamination. A recent study of 9 different hotels showed the number of germs lurking in the different surfaces of your hotel room including remotes and light switches.
In cases where business travel is unavoidable, book a furnished apartment for your travellers instead of a hotel. With a furnished apartment, your employees have the following advantages:
- Greater control over who has access to their room
- Reduced exposure to common areas, shared buffets and high risk carriers
- Greater control over who handles their food and the ability to make food in their own kitchen
Speak to landlords about disinfecting apartments.
If you are concerned about the novel coronavirus, speak to potential landlords about thoroughly disinfecting the apartments booked for your employees. Whenever necessary, offer to pay for the extra service.
12. Reconsider unnecessary business travel
Many big companies including tech giants like Google are cancelling employee business trips and events in high-risk countries in hopes of limiting the spread of coronavirus.
In cases where business travel is unavoidable, speak to your travellers and ensure that they don’t have any underlying health conditions that may make them more susceptible to infections.
If business travel is unavoidable, check with relevant local authorities for up-to-date information on travel advisories for the area. Refer to point 14 below…
13. Prevent coronavirus misinformation and paranoia through regular Coronavirus Fact Vs Fiction emails
Sadly, the internet is flooded with fear mongers who publish and share unverified claims about coronavirus causing mass panic and hysteria.
Encourage your HR department to stay in the know and send regular emails to all employees with updates on coronavirus in the country in question.
14. Use reputable sources for information on coronavirus
The current coronavirus outbreak has led to scores of conspiracy theories, rumours and misleading videos spreading online. To combat these falsehoods and speculations, use credible sources of information for the relevant country. Here is a list of resources you can use for all the latest updates.
- World Health Organization (WHO)
- People’s Republic of China
- New Zealand:
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
- United States